The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strike cloud on Bollywood

Mumbai, May 7: Theatre owners protesting against “killing taxes’’ have threatened to go on an indefinite strike from May 16.

If the strike takes place, it will force the industry to sit it out through the peak May season. This enforced lull follows the release of just one movie — the Sunny Deol, Priety Zinta-starrer, The Hero — in more than a month. Only one film could be released during this period because of a producers’ dispute with distributors.

Theatre owners say their profits are not keeping pace with the taxes being levied. The Cinematograph Exhibitors Association of India (CEAI) and the Theatre Owners Association are most bitter that the government has ignored them while going slow on taxes levied on live entertainment. Live shows have received a boost with the huge success of the recent Rolling Stones’ 40 Licks India tour.

CEAI president Nestor D’Souza says it is unfair to waive entertainment taxes on live acts while penalising theatres. Theatre owners in Mumbai are demanding entertainment taxes be reduced and the service charge of Rs 5 per ticket be slashed. They also want the government to do away with property tax, which is based on box-office collections. The owners say the government must take into account their weekly losses of nearly Rs 7 crore.

“We are losing money just by showing films,’’ Kundan Thadani, owner of Sona cinema in Borivli said. “We have to pressurise the government to bail us out. Most of the time, we have to contend with unoccupied seats.’’

After the World Cup-induced lull and the producer-distributor tiff, the industry was looking to the traditional boom-time of May to see it through. But theatre owners say this will not happen. They are even prepared to put on indefinite hold the slew of films awaiting release.

Ram Gopal Verma is unable to clear the way for his Bhoot, where Urmila Matondkar is said to have put in a command performance. The Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Armaan is similarly held up. Shah Rukh Khan, desperate to have a successful home production after Asoka and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani fared badly, will have to wait a while before Chalte Chalte reaches the theatres. Also held up is Jajantaram Mamantaram, the Indian take-off on Gulliver’s Travels.

Abhishek Bachchan, in need of a hit, needs the theatre owners’ dispute to be resolved for his Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost to be released. Guns-and-goons flicks Supari and Haasil have also been held up.

‘Generation next’ film Ishq Vishk, slated for a May 9 release, has only a week to rake in money before the screens go blank. Its distributor, Rajesh Thadani, is none too happy at the thought. “If the strike takes off, I will have only seven days for the film and will have to push more prints outside the state,’’ he says. Despite this, Thadani supports the theatre owners’ demands.

This time it is the distributors who are opposing the strike. An Indian Motion Picture Distributors Association member says: “There are so many movies awaiting release after what appears an eternity. We will supply the films to theatres willing to exhibit them. The strike has come at a very bad time.”

May is the month when film-viewing picks up after the lean months of January, February and March. The strike could therefore not have been more ill-timed.

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